Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Considerable Weekend

Did lots of stuff I had no chance to blog about this weekend. So here we go, in brief form:

American Gangster

Okay, so I watched this last But I didn't get a chance to review it. It's a pretty good flick, with some solid performances and a great soundtrack full of '70s soul. (I knew Jay-Z's latest album is a tie-in with the movie, but none of those songs actually appear in the film. It's weird from a marketing standpoint, but the decision not to go with anachronistic hip-hop in the background was a smart one.) I think the only thing that kept me from loving the movie was its familiarity.

There have been a lot of other movies about real-life drug dealers from this era, and all the stories are fairly similar. Resourceful criminal finds a way to obtain cheap narcotics from a foreign supplier, quickly rises to the top of his profession and eventually falls from grace, with the very ambition and aggressiveness that initially won him a fortune bringing about his downfall. There's nothing American Gangster really brings to that formula, and its one kind of unique element - the switching of perspectives between kingpin Frank Lucas (Washington) and the policeman chasing him (Russell Crowe) - kind of bogs the film down rather than adding anything new to the mix. It also could stand to be a bit more entertaining; the movie starts slow, and never really finds its rhythm, exactly.

Neil Young at the Nokia Theater

Caught Neil's show on Friday night with my brother and father. His wife Pegi opened with kind of a bland collection of throwback country songs. Granted, this isn't really my genre to begin with, but the set was, I hate to say it, kind of boring.

Neil then came on stage alone and played about a 45 minute acoustic set that was pretty stellar. The highlight? "A Man Needs a Maid." I never really imagined he'd pull that one out, and the performance kind of blew me away. There was this obnoxious hillbilly couple sitting directly behind me (they must have driven in from somewhere in Central California, because they had that drawl you just don't get from Los Angelinos) talking through the entire show (and always with ridiculously folksy, stupid comments), and even they shut up during "Man Needs a Maid." Although immediately afterwards, they had to comment. "I think he's got two keyboards on that stage. Sounded like two keyboards." "What was he talking about in that song? Gettin' a maid? That's hee-larious." Ugh.

Then, Neil returned for a 90 minute electric set, which includes about a half-hour's worth of jamming on "No Hidden Path," one of the songs off his new record, Chrome Dreams II. It may have gone on a bit too long, and my brother absolutely loathed this portion of the performance, but I enjoyed seeing the band get deep into spaced-out jam mode. I used to see a lot more jammy kind of bands (including, yes, Phish), and I guess I'm just not bothered it the way others seem to be. For me, the music isn't more or less boring because there's no vocals and it lacks traditional structure. If it sounds good, I'm fine with it. Not trying to put down people who don't see it that way, and there are certainly jams I've seen that have gone on way too long. (Built to Spill once played a version of "Randy Describes Eternity" that was so long, I had time to forget what song they were even playing, then remember, then forget again.)

Here's the full setlist:

From Hank To Hendrix / Ambulance Blues / Sad Movies / A Man Needs A Maid / No One Seems To Know / Harvest / Love In Mind / After The Gold Rush / Mellow My Mind / Love Art Blues / Love Is A Rose / Heart Of Gold // The Loner / Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere / Dirty Old Man / Spirit Road / Bad Fog Of Loneliness / Winterlong / Oh, Lonesome Me / The Believer / No Hidden Path // Cinnamon Girl / Cortez The Killer /Tonight's The Night

I mean, "After the Gold Rush"? "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere"? "Cortez the Killer"? No complaints here...

Here's playlist from some of the best Neil songs I could find on Seeqpod:

V Lounge

So, that was Friday night. I went to work Saturday for a few hours. Hey, somebody's got to cover the "Dog the Bounty Hunter is a Racist/Moron/Obnoxious Star of a Terrible Reality Show" case, am I right? Right? Am I right?

Then, Saturday night, I headed out with Adam from Mahalo to the birthday party of our co-worker, Jenny at V Lounge, which is a Hollywood-style nightclub in Santa Monica. Which, in case you're not from LA, is kind of strange. Anyway, we had to wait about 45 minutes outside V Lounge to get in, and during that time I actually saw one of my few close friends, randomly. (She, having boobs, naturally walked right in.) This was highly awesome, because nothing makes you look cooler in front of people you don't know that well than running into random friends outside of nightclubs. Like a Man About Town or something.

I know this may be hard for all of you to imagine, but nightclubs are actually not my scene at all. In a bar, I actually have a chance of possibly getting to know someone. That place encapsulates all the benefits of inebriation (like confidence and seeming a lot more witty) without the thunderously loud music or need to demonstrate some level of physical coordination you get in a nightclub. A club simultaneously robs my of the ability to converse (my only real asset in these kind of social situations) AND provides me with a primary activity - dancing - that's essentially an invitation to make a serious asshole out of myself. Bad news. (Also, I don't own any real club-appropriate clothing. There was a guy there wearing a half-opened shimmery black shirt with a dragon embroidered over the left shoulder. I couldn't live with myself if I paid money for something like that.)

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Went and saw this today in Long Beach. This is the second movie in a row I've seen in a theater in Long Beach where the sound was fucked up. When I saw The Kingdom at the Marina Pacifica 12, there was a blown speaker that messed up all the low-end rumble (considerable in the film's action-heavy final act.) Today, during Elizabeth: The Golden Age at the UA Marketplace, one speaker would randomly cut in and out, totally screwing with the surround sound. It got really bad during the climactic battle versus the Spanish Armada. Seriously, am I just spoiled living in a film-conscious town like LA? Are most movie theaters around the country incapable of screening a film without these kinds of irritating technical glitches? No wonder people are just illegally downloading this shit and watching it on the computers. Relatively little chance that a quality DVD rip is going to have screwy sound issues.

As for the film, it's pretty entertaining and slickly made. I haven't seen the original Elizabeth in a while, but I recall being kind of bored during that film's midsection, so I'm tempted to say this one's better paced. Blanchett and Rush are great as always in surprisingly physical performances. (Blanchett performs a lot of the film in extreme close-up, which can't be easy to do, and Rush believably plays a weakened and frail old man). Samantha Morton was perfectly cast as Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, and has a few terrifically imperious, almost frightening scenes in which to shine. (If she had just a bit more screen time, I'd think her a natural pick for a Supporting Actress nod.)

The conclusion of the film - the 1588 attack of the Spanish Armada on England - feels a lot like a throwback historical adventure-romance with Clive Owen (playing Sir Walter Raleigh) in the Errol Flynn role. These scenes are actually kind of fun, and rather inadvertently highlights the staid dryness of the film's earlier passages.

Golden Age is also teeming with historical inaccuracy. I'm not particularly well versed on this period of English history, but even I could tell they were straining to retell all the major events of the Anglo-Spanish War within 2 hours with a minimum of excess characters. This is a shame, because I sense that most Americans know very little about the events portrayed, and they will most likely fill in these gaps in their knowledge with the inaccuracies of the movie. (A guy sitting behind me at the theater talked a lot during the film, and seemed to have very little background on any of these figures. It took him a good long while to even get his bearings. I sense wouldn't have been able to identify the country in which the movie took place if it hadn't appeared on screen at the beginning.)

It didn't really hurt my enjoyment of the movie as a movie, and I understand why a little unrequited love may have been needed for the sake of drama.

But the story of the Tudor/Stuart showdown, of the Spanish fleet's attack on England's significantly weaker Navy, of the clash between Protestantism and Catholicism that essentially defined hundreds of years of European history, has some innate drama as well, right? Do we really need to change so much to make this story work?


GimmeDaWatch said...

Come on dude, American Gangster wuz Gangster. I must not have seen all these other movies you speak of, b/c the only other movie I can think of that fits your formula is "Blow", which is pretty silly and over the top and does not have much in common w/AG. Maybe "Scarface", but that wasn't a true story, verdad? Lotta good movies out lately. Finally.

Lons said...

There were definitely some quality scenes. LOVED the bit with Denzel and his brothers in the restaurant. And it did really bring Harlem in the '70s alive on-screen in a way that's compelling.

But it's sort of like the really good stuff was rushed and the more dreary stuff was stretched out. And yeah, "Blow" and "Scarface" are both really similar, and both true stories. (I mean, the formula's pretty similar to every gangster movie ever made, all the way back to "Little Caeser.")

I guess this is just how it went for big-time drug dealers in the late '70s. But that doesn't mean we have to make all their stories into movies.